Just when you thought you’d seen it all or had it all at The Guardian, then unarguably the flagship of the Nigerian press, you get to Tell Magazine and realised you probably needed this next stop to earn the bragging rights and claim to being a thoroughbred professional journalist.
Although I joined the reputed news magazine on high acclaim as a seasoned reporter and writer by both contemporaries and senior colleagues I met already working there in 2001, I was awed by the incredible professional quality, intellectual depth and literary and investigative skills of the battery of the Tell journalists.
From the Directors- Nosa Igiebor, Onome Osifo-Whiskey, Dele Omotunde, Dare Babarinsa, Kolawole Ilori, to the Senior Editors — Ayodele Akinkuotu, Ademola Oyinlola, Louisa Aguiyi -Ironsi, Dele Agekameh and other Editors- Adegbenro Adebanjo, Wola Adeyemo, Ibim Semenitari, Mikhail Mumumi, Yemi Olowolabi, to the likes of Stella Sawyer, Adejuwon Soyinka (now of BBC) and Musikilu Mojeed (now Editor-in-Chief of the influential Premium Times) who were just cutting their teeth as reporters in the organisation.
I had been flattered by my colleagues and superiors, who, when I was introduced, welcomed me with such warm friendliness and familiarity, with some remarking they had been following my writing career and were happy to have me on board as a worthy addition.
My appointment was to fortify the editorial team among moves by the news magazine at reinventing and repositioning itself for greater exploits at the turn of the decade after more than a decade glorious and profitable publishing career.
I joined the team alongside Dayo Ayeitan as Assistant Editors and the irrepressible Shola Osunkeye who left his desk as Editor of Weekend Concord to become Tell’s Associate Editor.
But it took attendance of just the first two “War Councils” which the editorial meetings of the company were, for me to realise I was in a “Stars War” in which I had to fight not only for a place in the firmament, but to consistently shine forth my own rays.
The editorial conference was where the ideas of the celebrated stories published in the magazine were incubated, hatched and refined before reporters went into the field, just like good housewives or accomplished chefs went to the market to buy ingredients with which their much sought-after delicious sauce were cooked.
It was where story ideas fiercely competed to make the esteemed, but limited space in the magazine and either survived or died and got incinerated or interred forever in the editorial cemetery. After subjection to vigorous critical analysis and intellectual debate some originally proposed ideas ended up unrecognisable to the sponsors, their focus and scope having either been significantly altered or expanded! You couldn’t but be filled with admiration and respect, as superiors and their subordinates argued their individual positions and perspectives with wit, logic and passion.
Armed with scouring tools and torch of the enlightenment gained from these sessions, the army of reporters then fanned out into the field to uncover and gather all necessary details and facts that would help in lighting up all the dark perspectives and packaging of the stories!
By the time the one assigned to anchor the story eventually crafted it, he had behind him, unknown to the readers, the turbo-power of the entire Tell’s news force. The inevitable results were the series of award-winning and landmark investigative reports that established Tell as the best selling and most respected news magazine in the country for many years.
One of the seasoned journalists who contributed to giving the publication this enviable image was Dele Agekameh whose tragic transition to the beyond yesterday was broken in the news earlier today (yesterday).
I never met Agekameh until I joined Tell, although I’d known him by reputation as a writer and journalist since his days at Newswatch from where he moved to Tell. Bob Dee, as we fondly called him, was then the magazine’s Associate Editor or so. I scarcely saw him around in those early days as he was busy trying to actualise Tell management’s dream of publishing a tabloid similar to The Sun newspapers before Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe came out with the idea about a year or two later!
As a crack crime/security reporter with interest in the novel too, Agekameh undoubtedly earned the directors’ trust in appointing him editor of the proposed newspaper.
With a stern, raspy voice and a burly frame he would often lumber into the newsroom. Agekameh cut the figure of the archetypal editor- intimidating!
Unlike a person with an eager and charitable tongue like me, he seemed rather parsimonious with compliments or exhibition of affections beyond perfunctory greeting. I could hardly remember his participating in the lively jokes and conversations that were the features of the newsroom.
But, how wrong I was in my impression of him as a mere new comer! Our later interaction opened my eyes to this most pleasant personality of remarkable affability, friendliness and touching concern and ever-willing helpfulness for the career growth of colleagues.
Shortly after the Tell management posted me out to open a South West regional office for the company in Ibadan as Bureau Chief, I got a call from Agekameh in which he tried to persuade me to consider returning to Lagos to be his Deputy in the upcoming newspaper. He would make the necessary recommendation to the Tell management for my recall and redeployment if I would agree.
He offered, and for the first time, dropping a hint of what he apparently thought of my professional worth, he coaxed: “With your experience and skills, you would just be wasting your talent and potential to move up if you choose to stay in the outstation. You will simply be left and forgotten there. Yes, you are an editor, but it’s still essentially the job and life of a correspondent. Do you like that?” Noticing my reluctance to shift and give up the comfort and familiar terrain of Ibadan to which I’d been accustomed for more than a decade for the hustle and bustle of Lagos I’d just mercifully escaped.
Since then, our friendship had blossomed and even deepened, as either of us would occasionally phone the other to discuss personal and professional issues, even after we both left the services of the media organisation.
I grew greater respect for him following a series of landmark cover/investigative stories he did for Tell when he returned to his desk after the envisaged newspaper he was to midwife was shelved. One of them, which I celebrated with personal pride, by virtue of my association with him, was the big expose on cross-border robberies, which led to the bursting of an international car-snatching syndicate and the arrest of its dreaded baron, Hamani Tijani.
However, he was to show another side of him as a versatile professional with his incisive analysis and profound thoughts in the engaging weekly columns he wrote for Premium Times and The Nation newspapers.
It was a shock to learn that Agekameh had long nursed a kidney disease which caused his sudden demise. When I spoke with him on phone a couple of months ago about some prospects, he neither sounded like someone battling with such fatal challenge. He was very much optimistic and encouraging in his usual way. We hung up on the note that we would revisit my proposition later. Unfortunately, I must say, I was the one who failed to pursue the matter any further.
It is saddening too to learn that we lost this highly regarded and seasoned journalist to Nigeria’s decadent public health system and its irresponsible and negligent professionals long married to a poor work ethic.
Adieu Bob Dee! May the good your pen and sweat had done the nation and your world help in your ascent and journey to higher realms!